Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January Birchbox Review: 2015. Let's Do This.

I love being part of the Birchbloggers group on Facebook where we all talk about makeup, beauty products, and of course, Birchbox! This is my inaugural Birchbox review and I got an extra bonus this month with the Love, Lashes and Lipstick book, which I haven't had time to read since this month's been a bit hectic. Is there any other way to enter a new year? 

So, without further ado -- here we go:

Essential Elements Wake Up Rosemary Body Lotion | Full-size, $19

I am a fan of this product line. When the product description says invigorating, they mean it. It's a little strong at first, makes me flashback to me as a young child having Mentholatum smeared on to help me with congestion (or whatever it was meant to help). But, the smell quickly turns subtle and more spa-like. I have the body wash sample in the shower and the body lotion by my bedside to rub into my arms, hands, and elbows before bed.

Katherine Cosmetics Everyday Eyeliner | Full-size $26

This eyeliner glides on well and doesn't smudge. I liked trying the dark brown color since I usually use black. The color is a better choice for a daytime, more natural look. It's a pretty high price point for me for an eyeliner, so let me know if you have any drugstore recommendations. 

Key West Aloe Gentle Aloe Facial Cleanser | Full-size $16.50

I was excited for this product after several people posted that they liked the line. I've tried this product and the lotion and...I wasn't crazy about either. I don't think the facial cleanser lathers that well and with the wide variety of beauty products available, I'm going to skip this line in the future.

Ren Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask | Full-size $55

Not my favorite mask. The smell was a bit off-putting and I was underwhelmed. I like the thicker cream or charcoal masks. It's not a bad product, just not for me. 

Sweet Science Invisible Daily Tint SPF 35 | Full-size $45

Three cheers for face products with a higher SPF! I love the lightweight feel of this product and how easily it glides on. I would use this as a stand alone in the summer when I ease up on my makeup routine, but in the winter, I still pair it with more coverage from a BB cream or foundation.

Extra January Favorite: Herbal Essences Naked Collection Shampoo, Dry Shampoo and Conditioner 

This did NOT come in my Birchbox, but I was sent samples from Klout for Herbal Essences newest line, which I love, and I'm adding it to my January list of favorites. The dry shampoo is fantastic and I used the BOGO coupon Klout sent to get the full-size shampoo and conditioner. It leaves my hair smelling fresh and it makes my hair feel super clean and hydrated. 

I look forward to getting my Birchbox in the mail every month and it's fun learning from other bloggers and YouTubers about new products to try. Let me know if you have any recommendations of recent must-haves you've used!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Recipe Resolution: Homemade Mac and Cheese

I've had a long relationship with macaroni and cheese. Earliest memories come from the good ol' Kraft blue box variety, either with or without cut up hot dogs mixed in. It was a treat when I was upgraded to the Velveeta shells and cheese (which I no longer have the taste for, sadly). Then, of course, there was the progression into college and the many packs of Easy Mac I went through to save money and stay fed. And, now in my adult years, whenever I see this comfort food on a menu, I order it.

Homemade mac and cheese is easy to make, as you can imagine. I mean there are only a few other things to throw in besides the title ingredients, but I feel there is an art in making it that I have yet to perfect. 

I make a good one, but definitely not the best I've ever had. It's getting the right mix of cheeses, a well-seasoned sauce, and the delicious crumb topping just right. The latest version I made included cheddar, white cheddar, and a mixture of Parmesan and Romano cheeses. 

Note: The Pioneer Woman says to grate your own cheese for better melting. She is right, of course. I love her.

First, you have to create a thickening agent by combining melted butter, flour, and milk and whisking away over a medium heat. Add salt, pepper, and paprika to taste and then slowly add handfuls of whatever cheeses you'd like to melt into the mixture slowly. 

I've put together this recipe based on a combination of recipes I've seen online and by watching Food Network.

Boil and drain your macaroni noodles and don't overcook them. You want them to be able to hold up to the cheese. Add the cheese sauce, mixing it all together so every noodle gets some of the action. Transfer to a greased baking pan and add the crumb topping, which is melted butter mixed with bread crumbs and a little more cheese. 

Pop in the over at 425 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. I usually just put it in with whatever else I have cooking. The top will get nice and golden. 

With baked mac and cheese, you're most likely going to have a few clumps of cheese, which I like! Grating the cheese by hand helped, but I cheated with the Parmesan and Romano cheeses and used the shredded kind in the bag.

Homemade Mac and Cheese:

- a few tablespoons of butter, melt slowly in a saucepan over medium heat
- a tablespoon or two of flour
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups of milk
- salt, pepper, paprika to taste
- 1/2 c. to a 1 cup each of cheddar, white cheddar, Parmesan, and Romano (again, use whatever cheeses you think would be good - like Gruyere!) 
- 1 package of macaroni or whatever shape of pasta you'd like


- 2 tablespoons of melted butter
- 3/4 c. of bread crumbs
- more cheese!

This makes a whole pan full of mac and cheese, which is good because I think it's even better the next day as leftovers. 

Enjoy the eats!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday Musings: Turning the Corner

Taking a break from my writing schedule to well, write this blog post and keep up with my 2015 goal of contributing more to my own creative endeavors. This week has already begun with good news and I had an impromptu lunch with Mikey, so I'd say I'm off to a wonderful start. 

Do you ever feel like you are five steps ahead of people and just waiting for others to catch up? In some cases, I am guilty of instant gratification. If I need to know the answer to something, I want to know right now. But, usually that's not how the universe works. It's not just going to lay out your life before you, so you can cherry pick the good parts. 

I've felt for some time that I have been waiting and waiting (and waiting!) to see what's around the corner, and I feel now like I'm finally rounding the curve, which makes me think of this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr:

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." 

This is so, so true and can apply to almost any situation. Speaking of MLK, for those of you who haven't seen "Selma," I recommend doing so. Despite certain critics who want to focus on the inaccuracies of what is a fictionalized version of this significant time in history, it is still an important film to watch, if for nothing else then to get the conversation going. Inequality and issues surrounding civil rights are still very much a point of contention in 2015. They deserve to be discussed.

Recently, I was waiting for a screening of a different movie to start when I heard a man behind me say he did not want to see "Selma" because he was tired of white people telling the story of black history. He went on to say that no black person was associated with that film and he had no interest in seeing it. 

I wanted to whip around and ask if he caught the most recent Golden Globes when they discussed the fact that the movie's director, Ava DuVernay, was the first black female to be nominated in the category of Best Director. Never mind the support and affiliations with several other celebrities and musical artists who took part in the creation of the film. I also wanted to tell him to shush. But I kept the comments to myself. It was a discussion I chose to skip.

Close-minded attitudes are not my thing. 

Maybe too many times we avoid discussions because it's the fight we don't want to have or the point we don't feel we need to prove. Sometimes we just don't want to fight period, but instead appreciate the opportunity to learn from others, understand how we do and do not want to live our lives, and create the kind of life that makes us happy. 

We just have to instill the kind of confidence and passion within ourselves, so that when we find those things worth fighting for, we won't back down. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

New Recipe Resolution: Apricot Chicken

If you have these five ingredients, then you have a meal: 

- chicken breasts or thighs
- apricot preserves
- soy sauce
- Brussels sprouts
- butternut squash

My friend has been emailing recipes to me to help with my new year's recipe resolution and she sent this five-ingredient meal that was, as you can imagine, super easy to make. 

I bought a package of chicken thighs, since they were less expensive, and took off the skin. In a bowl I combined one jar of the preserves with a few (6-8), strong shakes of soy sauce. Soy sauce is ultra-salty, so be careful with how much you add and taste along the way. Some people may want their glaze sweeter and some may want it to be on the saltier side.

Place chicken pieces in a baking pan and salt and pepper each side, then cover with the glaze. Put the pan in an oven pre-heated to 450 degrees and cook for 25-30 minutes. 

The Brussels sprouts and butternut squash make for the perfect sides, but you can choose whichever veggies you like. Fresh & Easy has packages of butternut squash already cubed, so I bought a bag of that and a bag of Brussels sprouts and laid them out on a sheet pan. I drizzled on olive oil and sprinkled the veggies with salt, pepper, and thyme. I add the tray to the oven and cooked for about 25 minutes. You can serve with rice or pasta if you want to add a starch.

I love when people send me recipes, so if you have any that I should try, send my way! As you can probably tell, I like to take the easy, low-budget route. 

Enjoy the eats!

Image from Pinterest

Friday, January 16, 2015

50/50 Challenge: Book Update

Knocked out three more books for the challenge. I'm 4/50 right now. I'm getting ready to read Lean In for a book club and am interested to see if I'll like it. Who's read it?

Saving GraceSaving Grace by Jane Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I LOVE Jane Green. I've read all her books and feel she is just my "comfort food" when it comes to books. She really invests in her characters and gives good description of them so that you can immerse in their (often soap opera-ish) lives. In her latest novel, she also throws in a bit of mystery that adds another element to the story.

I also like how she incorporates London into many of her books since she's originally from the UK. Many of her books reflect women who have to find their inner strength and this one is another example of that, but in a way that draws you in for a little bit to the entertainment of the story. I read this book in 24 hours.

Someone Else's Love StorySomeone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was definitely a unique story. It started out with action right away and then took itself backwards and in interesting directions. I like the author's character description to get a visual picture of each person. Maybe due to how much Shandi had been through, I kept placing her as older.

There is a little mystery involved with this book as it discusses Shandi's "miraculous" child and it did leave men wondering, whose love story is being talked about.

The writing was well-paced. I'm not sure about the development for William's character at the end, but I guess it gave a bit of closure to the situation. His friend, Paula was one of my favorite characters and I think it would be interesting if the writer dedicated a book just to her.

The story did take a traditional theme of "can men and women just be friends" and put a creative spin on it.

Every Day (Every Day #1)Every Day by David Levithan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a true original and that's what I appreciate from it the most. The main character - A - changes bodies of who he is every day and tells a different story in each chapter, when running along with each new life is common story of A falling in love and how he's going to get his girl when he wakes up in a different family in a different house every day.

If it wasn't for this running love story, then I think the book would've been harder to get through because you can't connect with any of the characters or put yourself into any situation because the chapters are short and A's time with each of them is short lived.

I think to have the creativity to come up and execute this type of book is fantastic and I applaud the author. Plus, the ending was unexpected, but left a good closure to the book.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

New Recipe Resolution: Mexican Lasagna

Casseroles are a good idea for our household because we can have leftovers that don't have to last all week. I can get down with leftovers, but I don't really want to eat the same thing for days and days. 

I had looked up a few recipes for a Mexican-style casserole and kind of combined different ones to make this Mexican Lasagna, which was simple to put together and a good choice for a Friday night. 

What you need: 

- 1 package of corn tortillas
- 1 lb. of ground beef 
- 1/2 onion
- 1 can of refried beans
- 1 can of salsa verde
- 1 package of shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 can of corn

Spices to use: taco seasoning, salt, pepper, chili powder

First, add a little oil to a pan and dice up the onion and saute. Add ground beef and cook all the way through. Add spices to the meat mixture and set aside. Make sure it is seasoned well. Taste it and add as needed.

Spray non-stick cooking spray on the inside of a baking pan. Cut tortillas in half and place in single layer along the bottom of the pan. Add a layer of salsa verde, then layer of refried beans, layer of the meat mixture, layer of corn, and shredded cheese. Repeat the assembly with more layer. 

Bake in oven preheated at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Serve with chips and salsa. 

Next time I make it, I will probably add Monterey Jack cheese and or the Queso Blanco Velveeta for extra spice, flavor, and cheesiness. Also, you most likely aren't going to use the entire package of tortillas, so save the extra for breakfast tacos made with scrambled eggs, veggies, and salsa!

For this recipe...I forgot to take pictures! Gotta get better at that.

Side food note: I've realized I love vegetables roasted. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper to pretty much any veggie and it's delicious. Last vegetable used: cauliflower. I added thyme, seasoned salt, and a little bit of cinnamon. YUM!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Monday Musings: A Message from Amy

As a fan of her latest book Yes Please and her last Golden Globes hosting stint with Tina Fey last night, Amy Poehler is my inspiration today. Other musings have been put on hold due to the wonderful craziness that is Monday!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Where's Courtney: Welcome to San Antonio, TX! (January 2014)

A few years ago, three of my best girlfriends and I decided that every year we would have a girls' travel weekend. They all have kids; we all have busy schedules and we keep in touch through email for the really important things, but scheduling a time every year just for us to reconnect is something I look forward to and cherish. 

Last year we voted on San Antonio for our annual travel weekend. We've also been to Chicago, Weston, MO and the cutest B&B, Lake of the Ozarks, and San Diego. San Antonio has a funky vibe with a lot to offer in terms of history, culture, and food. It's also walker-friendly, so we didn't have to spend money on a car, just a cab from the airport.

One of my friends is great at finding hotel deals and we ended up with a picturesque location on the Riverwalk with a spacious room perfect for the four of us. 

Since I''m fascinated with the paranormal, we signed up for a ghost tour which led us around the Alamo and its surrounding area. I will say that the tour we chose was a bit disappointing. The guide told us a few stories, but with the historical culture of the area, I thought there'd be more to share. Not all of it seemed authentic.

We had a chance to watch a glassblowing demonstration at an art gallery, live orchestra music on the street, and a boat trip down the river. Most of all it was fun to spend time together and sharing memories of new trip. 

The tradition makes our friendship stronger and creates memories that are priceless. This year, we've decided we would be a little unconventional and focus on the big event that is happening in San Diego later this year - my wedding!

Travel is such an important part of my life and so are my friends. By mixing the two, I get the best of both worlds.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

50/50 Challenge: Movies Update

I'm off to a great start movie-wise for this 50/50 Challenge 2015. Four movies this week to add to the one I saw just after the new year. Of the five I've seen so far, "Selma" is probably my favorite. While I did write about it for, I felt like "reviewing" it was outside the scope the importance of the story. Though dramatized, this time in American history is truly significant and remains so, so important in the world we live today. 

You can read more of my thoughts here, but watching civil injustice and thinking about that period of time is truly something is hard to swallow. It provokes an instinctual type of reaction in which my whole being rejects the idea of the violence and discrimination that people endured in my parents' generation. 

If you saw the movie, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the film. 

The first five movies of 2015 were: 

1. "The Rainmaker" - It's tough watching movies from the '90s for the first time in today's time. An early role for Matt Damon and there have been much, much better performances since then. It's hard to judge him in those early years. 

2. "Selma"

3. "A Most Violent Year" - My review will be up on when the movie releases in San Diego on January 23rd.

4. "Taken 3" - Not as bad as the second one, but that opening sequence is just awful. 

5. "Into the Woods" - I had never heard of this musical, so didn't have too many expectations for the film. Not my favorite, but stellar cast and Meryl Streep is as incredible as ever.

I'm seeing "American Sniper" and "Blackhat" next week, and hope to see Kevin Hart's new one - "The Wedding Ringer" - because he is one of my favorite entertainers. Follow him on Instagram if you want some laughs. 

Let's see who wins the trophies at tomorrow's Golden Globes. You can find me tweeting all about it. Chat with me @mscourtneybeth. Five down, forty-five to go!

Image from Pinterest

Friday, January 9, 2015

Where's Courtney? Welcome to Nashville, TN (May 2014)

I'm part of the Yelp Elite crew, which is an incredible group of people who get the opportunity to preview menus and venues around the city for free! Every year the Yelp team hosts a Spring Break in a different city open to all Elites across the nation. Last year I stumbled upon this news and found out that they were headed to Nashville!

Nashville has never been a city that's been on my list of places to go, but the list of events had me intrigued and with my never-ending wanderlust streaming through my veins, I convinced my fellow travel-loving friend to join me for some fun in a new city. 

Yelp was hosting events for a whole weekend, complimentary to those who RSVP'd and got on the list. My friend and I made our arrangements to hit up as many of the events we could, while also soaking up the city ambiance on our own. 

To save money, we stayed at the Radisson near the airport rather than the suggested (and more expensive) hotels in the heart of the city. Since we weren't going to be at the hotel that much other than to sleep and shower, we felt that this was a good way to budget. It was a comfortable stay and offered a free shuttle to and from the airport. 

We also decided not to rent a car for our extended weekend. By using Uber, we ended up saving money as we didn't spend near as much as we would have renting a car, filling it up with gas, and spending time and cash on parking. We planned out our days to accommodate where we were going, too, but we also walked a lot. Thank goodness our hotel supplied free bottles of water. We were there in early May, but already the weather was hot and balmy. 

On Broadway, there are countless places to eat and hear live music, not to mention close access to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Some of the Yelp events we experienced included a behind-the-scenes tour at Third Man Records, Jack White's label. Jack White's nephew gave us the tour and said that there are intimate music sessions and concerts held at the studio and recorded live. We also got on board a beer bus tour to several of Nashville's local breweries San Diego is known for its craft brew, but Nashville isn't too shabby a place to get some either.

Inside Third Man Records -- no photos allowed BTS

Beer, beer, and more beer!

We, of course, had to hit up the Grand Ole Opry and take the backstage tour, which was fun to hear the history of artists who have played there. The venue itself isn't that big, and our Uber driver had a hard time finding where to drop us off. It's kind of tucked away among trees near the massive hotel and a mall. 

Nashville is a fun-loving place! They have fried pickles everywhere (a favorite!), delicious BBQ (loved Jack's), and are big about "hollerin' and swallerin," which we did plenty of at Honky Tonk Central. Yes, that's what it's called. Get the Key Lime Pie cocktail and get in the spirit of country music.

I tasted fried pickles everywhere, but LOVED the ones at Honky Tonk Central.
Take the opportunity to travel whenever you can. There are ways to keep it cost-friendly and it's worth it to experience some place you've never been. Nashville was just one of the many U.S. cities I got to visit last year, and I loved its hospitable and funky vibe. 

There are still many places to cross off my list, but my travel adventures don't stop here...

I briefly wrote about my experience last year, but not as in-depth or with as many pictures as with this blog post. Almost a year later, I still am thinking about those fried pickles! I also spotlighted the city for as a Nashville City Guide.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Battle of the Dry Shampoos: Amika Perk Up Vs. Herbal Essences Naked

I am not one of those girls who can go days without washing her hair. I know it's supposed to be healthier and hairstylists recommend it, but I just can't. 

Buuut once in awhile, I do. 

When I have gone without a washing, I turn to dry shampoo. Although I have not tried it after a super sweaty workout like TKB, I have tried it post-yoga, when my hairline only get a little bit sweaty and I am going to brunch or run errands after class.

First up, Amika Perk Up Dry Shampoo, which I have received more than once in my Birchbox. No complaints here! Its subtle berry smell is far better than the medical smell of other products I've tried. Since I usually shower at night, I often use this dry shampoo in the morning to perk up my locks a bit. It help maintains the wisps around the crown of my head and makes my hair feel fresher. 

The .75 oz can that I received in my monthly subscription comes in handy for travel, but you can buy a full 5.3 oz. size on Birchbox by clicking here.

Image from 
As a Klout member, I often get free "perks" and last month I received a complimentary goodie basket of Herbal Essences Naked products. I love the smell of this product! It's refreshing, light, with just a hint of mint at the end. One of the interesting things about this product is that it contains tapioca starch, which apparently aids in absorbing oil. Sounds weird, but it works! The Herbal Essences Naked Dry Shampoo does not leave a powdery residue and immediately makes my hair appear less dull. It works well to absorb oil when you work it through your roots.

I received a full 4.9 oz can with my Klout package, which retails at $4.99 at Target and other similar stores. 

Image from

Which is better? 

While both products give amazing results, the scent and price point of the Herbal Essences Naked Dry Shampoo makes it a a hair!

Which dry shampoos have you tried? Which are your favorites? And, who has used them for really greasy, post-workout hair? I'm scared to try!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Recipe Resolution: Chicken Broccoli Alfredo

In the days when I used to eat at Olive Garden, I always ordered either the Ravioli di Portobello or the Chicken Con Broccoli. Then, for whatever reason, I didn't order alfredo-based sauces anymore for a long time. They were too heavy. And when reheating leftovers, the amount of oil that had separated out was kind of eye opening.

Well, I decided to give it another whirl. At home. Since one of my 2015 goals is to make one new recipe a week, I figured that Chicken Broccoli Alfredo would be easy and tasty, and it was!

I used: 

- 1 package of uncooked chicken already cut up in small, thin strips
- 1 package of uncooked broccoli
- 1 package of penne noodles
- 1 jar of Alfredo sauce

Four ingredients! Woo! I sauteed the chicken in a little bit of oil and added salt, pepper, and garlic salt for added flavor since chicken is so bland. I steamed all the broccoli and boiled the penne. Once everything was cooked, I drained the noodles, then added the broccoli and chicken to the pot. 

Finally, I poured the Alfredo sauce over everything and mixed well. I filled up the sauce jar halfway with water and put the lid back on, shook it up, and poured in the pot to get every last drop out. My mom taught me that trick when cooking with jarred sauces. Top with parmesan cheese and serve with garlic bread. 

Bonus of making this meal: Although I could have made my own sauce, the kind I used only had 4.5 grams of fat per serving, so I was able to make the pasta broccoli heavy and light on sauce. Just like I wanted it.

Mikey told me it was excellent! Then again, he says that about everything I cook. Smart man. His only request for next time: use bowtie pasta. 

As you can tell, I'm a fan of the quick and easy recipes that aren't too expensive. The whole meal came to about $15 for two people with leftovers. Later on in the year, I will try to attempt to be more ambitious with recipes that contain more than four ingredients, but in the meantime, it feels good just to be cooking at home.

Bonus kinda-sorta recipe: I enhanced my leftover rice and veggies from the other night by heating them up and adding a perfectly fried egg on top, soy sauce, then doused it all with sriracha. Everything is better with that stuff.

I'm learning to use what's in the fridge and cabinets, which isn't much, but it's helping me get creative and planning out the exact groceries I need when shopping. So far, so good. 

Enjoy the eats!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What's In My Influenster #FrostyVoxBox?

For those of you signed up with Influenster, you know how great it feels to get the email that says: You are receiving a VoxBox! I got such an email last month and days later I received a red, festive box of products as part of their most recent #FrostyVoxBox campaign. Merry Christmas to me!

Eight products total, all from quality brands, to help make my holidays merry and bright. 

Let's take a peek inside, shall we?

First things first, I tore into those Fruit Vines Bites. The niblets are from the Red Vines candy family and have the same flavor and texture as the vines. The beauty about this sweet snack is that there are no preservatives.

Since the weather had turned chilly (at least by San Diego standards), I immediately made use of the Celestial Seasonings Candy Cane Lane Decaf Green Tea. Because it's decaf, it turned out to be a delicious way to wind down the day and snuggle in nice and cozy. I was apprehensive about the peppermint flavor, but it was subtle enough that it was light and refreshing. I'd like to get a small teapot and continue to enjoy a hot tea every evening this winter.

I was excited to see the EcoTools Hair Brush since I can't remember the last time I replaced mine. I typically use a paddle brush, so I appreciate the soft bristles of the EcoTools brush. However, my hair is so thick that it didn't feel like it was brushing all the way through. It did increase its shine, but on most days, I need something that brushes out the tangles a little bit better.

There were four beauty products in my #FrostyVoxBox:

- A sample of the No7 Protect & Perfect Advanced Sachet, which is meant to help reduce the appearance of fine lines for healthier looking skin. Fortunately, I have not noticed too many fine lines yet, but it doesn't hurt to start good skincare with innovative products early.

- A full-size bottle of Rimmel's Gentle Eye Makeup Remover which is perfect if you use waterproof mascara. It helps clean the entire eye area. I just started using eye makeup remover in the past year and I think it makes a difference with my skincare.

- A jet black Rimmel Scandleyes Waterproof Kohl Kajal Eyeliner, which is heavily pigmented and glides on easily. With the vibrant color, keep in mind that a lot can go a long way. Or, if you want a dramatic look, line those rims to your heart's content.

-The NYC Expert Last Lip Color in Sugar Plum is a complementary match for my skin tone. It is similar to my original lip color, but gives a slightly darker hue for depth and a bit of shine. The product is moisturizing, which leaves a smooth finish. I am a fan of NYC beauty products and I look forward to trying their different colors, especially since they're only $1.99 each!

The last product of the box threw me for a loop for a second, but inspired me to search for recipes, so that I could take full advantage of it. McCormick's Gourmet Thyme will be a good seasoning for chicken and lemon pasta or in a hearty stew. If you cook with thyme often and have recipes to share with me, that'd be great!

Can't wait until my next VoxBox, but until then, I have plenty of time to enjoy the products I've received. Cheers my fellow Influensters!

I received these products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes. All opinions remain my own.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Monday Musings: About Those Donuts, Calm Down

I'm going to 'fess up right away. In the last 30 days, I have eaten too many donuts. I actually went a whole span of time, something like 10 years, where I couldn't eat donuts.* But, then, one day I could. Again. 

I blame my love, who on more than one occasion has brought me donuts, including my absolute favorite, a caramel Long John (or maple bars or whatever you refer to them as), to me in bed on a lazy weekend morning. Wash that sucker down with a plastic container of ice cold milk and that, my friends, is simplistic bliss at its finest. 

To make matters worse, I just discovered that one of my favorite places in PB - The Baked Bear - now offers Donut Ice Cream Sandwiches! Eep! This place allows you to mix-and-match your favorites cookies or brownies with whatever flavor of ice cream you wan't scooped in between. If you follow me on Instagram, then you've already had a visual of this glorious concoction.

I scarfed that puppy down so fast. So, it's clear I need to cool it on the donuts. Especially since two of my goals for the new year is to walk more and do the abs portion of my workouts. 

I take classes at 24 Hour Fitness pretty regularly, but I often opt out of the abs at the end. I either lie on the mat reveling in my own awesomeness for making it to the gym or hightail it out of there before the torture can begin. This year though, it wouldn't hurt me to stay. Even if I still lay there for half of the time. 

Walking is something I want to do more of because of the exercise, but more for the chance for me to clear my mind. I love a good, long walk either with friends, my guy, or solo. I am fortunate to live in a gorgeous city with near perfect weather year-round, so walking new paths isn't hard to do. 

I took a five-mile walk recently, exploring an unfamiliar to me and discovered another thing I want to do this year: go sea fishing! If you live in San Diego or are just visiting, they have a new open fish market every Saturday morning at the docks by Seaport Village. I have yet to go, but I want to check it out and also befriend a fisherman and experience it for myself. Not sure how I'm going to do that quite yet, but I am confident it can be done.

Should I just leave a note on one of these boats? 

San Diego fishing boats - January 2015
I'm feeling pretty good this first Monday of 2015. With inspiration from the Passion Planner, I am creating a focus for the week and listing all the things that go well, which will help keep things in perspective for me. 

Other randomness -- 

What I'm reading: Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson
What I'm listening to: Out of the Woods by Taylor Swift (shamelessly on repeat) and also Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars (because sometimes you just gotta DANCE)
What I'm watching: The Pioneer Woman (always, and all the shows that are coming back from break, including Suits! #TeamDonna)

Hope you all have a spectacular week! Quit grumbling about Monday -- it's almost over!

*When I was a young girl at Girl Scout camp, one of my fellow scouts handed out the donuts we had packed for the trip. She went on to lick her fingers between each donut and all I could imagine was her disgusting slobber all over my glazed pastry. I declined eating donuts that day and for hundreds of days after. Moral of the story: If you want to go on a diet, imagine someone has spit on your food.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

50/50 Challenge 2015: I'm at It Again

Yes, I am trying the 50/50 Challenge again! I was so, so close in 2014 that I think that this year is my year to complete it. After hearing raves about Goodreads from fellow book lover friends, I've decided to update my book progress through the site, which hopefully will help me keep better track. 

You can track my progress and become a book friend here

Also, by using Goodreads, I can leave all my reviews in one place to help things be more streamlined. For movies, I'll probably update this blog after every five or so movies I see. 

Here's to a new year of literature and film!  

RoomsRooms by Lauren Oliver

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As someone who is fascinated with ghosts, I thought the idea of writing a story from the perspective of ghosts was interesting. However, there are several narrators throughout the novel, both alive and deceased, which can cause some confusion. There is a lot going on in the history of one house.

A family has returned to settle the affairs of their father/husband who has died. The Walkers definitely is a family with issues and "ghosts" of their own and the whole story is depressing and quite melancholy. The mom is an alcoholic. The daughter is nymphomaniac who may have a daughter that is also maybe (*SPOILER:) a spirit. And, the son is contemplating suicide. If the story relied on their tales alone, it would be kind of deflating to read, but the voices of the house ghosts, Alice and Sandra, add another element of story as it relives their pasts and how they came to haunt the house.

The writing is vivid and descriptive, but there just might have been one too many characters. When discussing a story that spans over decades of years and more than one family, it can be hard to keep track of who's who.

I wanted the story to be more eerie, but it read more like a family history, which began to lose its intrigue over time. In fact, it had the book had a slow start. I like the theme the author used of traveling from room to room within the house and reliving memories that happened there and what it meant for the people involved. I also thought the end was a perfect wrap up to the story and didn't leave the reader feeling unsatisfied. There was closure.

If you do not have any interest in reading about ghosts, then this book may drag for you for reasons mentioned above. Getting the "other world" insight was what kept me reading.

*I'm not sure that this part is actually a spoiler because I am not sure if my interpretation is true or not. It'd be a question up for debate.

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year, New Recipes: Meatballs and Rice

Dieting has never been a resolution of mine because I just enjoy food too darn much. However, I did make a food resolution: try one new recipe a week. This helps me with my endeavor to cook more and eat more vegetables. 

My first recipe, though not vegetarian, was a success! I don't know if I can call it a new recipe necessarily, but since it's a short week, I am going to count it. 

Meatloaf is one of the easiest things to make. You only need ground beef (or turkey), an egg, breadcrumbs, and seasonings. I never make my meatloaf the same way -- I use what seasonings I have on hand and whatever additions I think I need.

I also never keep a refrigerator full of groceries because they usually go bad before we can use them, so I only shop for a few days at a time. I got one of those meat logs and divided it into thirds, the way my mom taught me, and used one-third to mix with the above mentioned ingredients and make meatballs. 

Voila new recipe! 

Meatballs and Rice

It's simple, easy, and most importantly delicious. 

You need: 

1 lb. (roughly) of ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup or so of bread crumbs (I used the regular, unseasoned kind)
any spices that you think might be good (I used salt, pepper, garlic powder, and seasoning salt)
a few shakes of parmesan or cotija cheese

If you want measurements on the seasonings, I'd say about a teaspoon or two of each, but heavier on the pepper rather than salt. Mix all ingredients by hand until everything is incorporated and roll into meatballs. 

Cook on a baking sheet at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until brown and cooked through. Option: the last five minutes of baking, pull out the meatballs and add BBQ sauce, then finish cooking the last few minutes.

Serve with rice, steamed veggies, and garlic bread. All of this is a meal for two for under $10! 

I would've taken pictures of the cooking process except another one of my 2015 goals is to take better pictures. That and my cooking mostly tastes better than it looks. 

Enjoy the eats!